Several locations around North Texas have been breaking out their kegs of Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA recently, so I felt it was time for a little cellar raiding on my part. The only Dogfish Head 120 left to me was an original 12-oz bottle from 2003, so here is some insight into how this beer ages.
Once upon a time, the 120 was a very big deal. Before BrewDog and others started their spiraling circus of ABV absurdity, there were two superbeers that walked the American craft beer landscape: Samuel Adams Utopia and Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA, each trading blows almost annually for the highest alcoholic content achieved in a beer.
The Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA was somewhat an extension of their 60 Minute and 90 Minute designs but with the 120 Minute reaching into the high teens or 20% ABV. Beers at this strength are massively difficult to brew—unlike BrewDog, which distills their products—because at some point the ethanol levels simply become toxic to typical beer yeast strains.
Adding to the rarity and mythology of the 120 is the fact that this beer is not released every year. In fact, it has been absent from Texas shelves for many years because of a recent failed batch that did not meet Dogfish Head’s quality standards (a lot can go wrong). The prevalence of liqueur-level specialty beers these days belies their technical accomplishment, with 120 being one of the first to push the technical limits.
All said, this beer is built for aging—some would even say it is a requirement. I find many 120 bottles are prime after only a year or two, as that allows the alcoholic heat to settle down somewhat before the tremendous hops nature fades completely. However, there is no practical upper limit to the 120’s ageability, only a decision as to when to pop the cap.
My 2003 bottle evolved in nature significantly from a fresh sample. It still pours a deep caramel color and is surprisingly well-carbonated and of moderate clarity. A whiff reveals a nature dominated by malty sweetness with mere traces of pine amid a faint but still detectable alcoholic heat. The bitter hops have all but disappeared from the taste, leaving a smooth syrup with a deep hint of resin and butterscotch.
Remarkably, there is no apparent oxidation and merely a gentle alcoholic sting. This sample is far from anything that could still be deemed an IPA but the tradeoff is the beer is now approaching a brandy quality. Even after almost a decade, the 120 still proves its superiority.
Availability: Taps have appeared recently at places like Flying Saucer, Common Table and Meddlesome Moth, and many places are holding kegs for special events. Bottles might show up on shelves, sold individually (close to $10 per 12-oz bottle).